Surprise Va. Tech star Weaver honors shooting victims
Drew Weaver surprised even himself in June by becoming the first American to win the British Amateur since 1979. At Carnoustie, he's making new friends, soaking up the atmosphere and keeping his golf game in perspective.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) -- Drew Weaver was standing around in his socks, waiting to get his spikes repaired at the hotel that looms over Carnoustie's 18th hole, when Zach Johnson came strolling by.
"How was your day?" the Masters champion asked.
"It was great," Weaver replied, breaking into a wide-eyed grin.
The smile only got bigger when Weaver's dad stepped forward with the next day's practice arrangements: Two more major champions, Davis Love III and Justin Leonard, had signed up to play with 20-year-old Drew in their last tune-up for the Open Championship.
"That's awesome," the youngster said, a tinge of disbelief in his voice.
Strange how life works out.
Three months ago, Weaver was strolling away from a managerial accounting class at Virginia Tech when he noticed a horde of police officers gathered at the building next door. One of them darted toward Weaver with a look of panic, telling him to run away as quickly as possible.
At first, Weaver reacted with the expected nonchalance of a college student with the world at his feet. He headed the other way with his roommate, but there was no real sense of urgency in their steps. Then came that awful sound from inside Norris Hall.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Weaver fled across a field and took cover at the university library, wondering what in the world was going on. Then came the awful news: 32 people had been gunned down by a deranged student, who then took his own life.
It would go down as the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Weaver had a class scheduled in the very same building, at the very same time, the very next day.
Flash ahead to Thursday. Weaver will tee off in one of golf's premier events, a college junior-to-be who earned his treasured spot in the field just 3 1/2 weeks ago by becoming the first American since 1979 to win the British Amateur title.
"It's something I'm really proud to be able to do," Weaver said. "I'm able to represent my country and my university overseas in such a great setting for golf. There's so much history over here. It really means a lot."
More than one could ever imagine, unless you happened to be a college student who saw a madman turn his campus into a killing ground. Weaver is playing the Open with a bag carried by his father and adorned in those distinctive Hokie colors, maroon and burnt orange -- a poignant reminder that life does indeed go on, even if it's never going to be quite the same.
"It was one of those experiences," Weaver said, "that will stick with me forever."
He still gets choked up, his eyes filling with potential tears, every time he talks about that awful day. But his father notices a new resolve in his only child, a previously untapped reservoir of strength that might just carry this youngster to even greater heights than were already expected.
Weaver has always been a fierce competitor and brilliant student, making nothing but A's until he got to college. When it became apparent his perfect mark would end at Virginia Tech, he sulked home to prepare his parents.
"He basically asked us permission to make a B," his father, John Weaver, recalled, shaking his head at the thought of someone so young being so driven to succeed. "He was like, 'Oh, I can't believe this, blah, blah, blah.' I had to say, 'But son, it's OK. It's a B. That's still good."'
The father wondered how the shooting would affect Drew, even though he didn't know any of the victims. Would his motivation waver? Would bitterness set in? Would be start searching for some deeper meaning to life?
"I still think it's deep inside of him," John Weaver said. "But I don't think it's eating him up. In a way, it's kind of a neat thing. I think he's turning it into a positive energy. He's lucky. He has some golf ability ... and he's used some of this to fuel his drive."
After playing poorly in the early spring, Weaver suddenly turned things around. Just days after the shootings, he returned to the course to help the Hokies pull off a huge upset in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, where they shared the championship with heavily favored Georgia Tech.
Everyone on the Hokies team played over their heads that final day, teaming up to shoot 8 under on the back nine. Weaver did his part, sinking a 35-foot putt at the last hole, then joined his teammates for an emotional trophy presentation.
"It was really a special weekend," he remembered. "We had so many people pulling for us. We just went down there and had an incredible performance."
The seasons changed, but Weaver didn't let up. After being turned down by a couple of major amateur tournaments in his own country, he was accepted into the British Amateur. He figured it would be a good experience, a chance to play true links golf for the first time in his life.
He never expected to become the first American to reach the final since 1983. He never expected to be the first to win it all since Jay Sigel in 1979.
"It's my style of golf," Weaver said. "I think a lot about different shots. The creativity demanded over here by these golf courses was something that just elevated my game. I don't normally hit shots that I can hit over here. There's so many different shots I have to figure out or maybe even try for the first time.
"It's really neat."
And it's really neat to play with some of the game's most recognized pros. On Tuesday, Weaver joined Stewart Cink and J.J. Henry for a practice round, listening intently as the two PGA TOUR regulars passed along some of their secrets. How to play different shots. How to prepare. How to avoid getting burned out on a game that requires countless hours of practice beyond the public eye.
"This is something he'll remember forever, he and his dad out here together," Henry said. "I call him the Dream Weaver."
As the threesome strolled up to the 16th green, Cink blurted out, "Did you ever hear what happened to Tom Weiskopf at Loch Lomond?"
Nope, Weaver replied. Well, here goes: While designing the course -- which Weaver played last weekend, missing the cut in the Barclays Scottish Open -- Weiskopf slipped into a quicksand bog. He was soon trapped up to his chest but managed to escape the scary predicament with help from a tree root.
"That was a pretty crazy story," Weaver said.
He out-drove both pros on the final hole, finding a safe spot between the meandering Barry Burn, then wandered over to the ropes to sign a few autographs.
"You're making it look too easy," one fan commented through a thick Scottish brogue. "Keep it up."
Weaver smiled again and said thanks. Then he kept going, a youngster who knows how good life can be when you've seen it at its worst.
"It's definitely changed the way I think about things. It's only so bad when you hit a bad shot or have a bad round," he said. "It's not the end of the world."
Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.